By now, it seems like every major actor working in the industry today has been cast in 'Dune'.
Names like Timotheé Chalamet, Zendaya, Javier Bardem have been attached whilst screenwriter Eric Roth - he of 'Forrest Gump', 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' and about a dozen other movies you've definitely heard of - has been signed on to write whilst Denis Villeneueve is set to direct.
OK, SO 'DUNE' IS SOMETHING TO DO WITH SPICE OR SOMETHING?
That's like saying 'Star Wars' has something to do with space, or that the Bond franchise is about martinis and tuxedos. It's one part of it. 'Dune' was written in 1965 by Frank Herbert, and trying to condense the entire plot down into one paragraph of an article is like, well, trying to condense an entire plot. But, hey, God loves a trier so here goes.
— 70s Sci-Fi Art (@70sscifiart) August 13, 2016
In the far-flung future, humanity has left behind computers and now uses a drug known as melange, or spice, to heighten their brain functions to the point where it gives them the ability to calculate space-flight and extend life to hundreds of years, or in other cases, the ability to see in the future. It's also used by religious groups to help access memories of the past, and is essentially the most important commodity in the entire galaxy.
The planets of the known galaxy are ruled by royal houses - like kingdoms, basically - and all houses swear loyalty to the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. 'Dune' begins with the Padishah Emperor granting control of a planet - Arrakis - to House Atreides. Arrakis is basically a desert planet with only sandworms (or so they think) as inhabitants, and a near-endless supply of spice. Duke Leto Atreides, the head of House Atreides, believes that the Padishah Emperor has given him control of the planet as a way of quelling his rising popularity.
That's basically the first act of 'Dune', and going any further would probably ruin your experience of it. Needless to say, there's a lot more going on than we've just described and it's a really rich story full of symbolism and metaphors for power, politics, religion and philosophy.
Think 'The Lord of the Rings' and you're on the right track. There's a surface story there, sure, but you could literally write theses on all of the world-building.
SO WHY ARE PEOPLE GETTING SO EXCITED ABOUT IT?
Well, just that. 'Dune' is to science-fiction as 'The Lord of the Rings' is to fantasy.
It's the bestselling science-fiction novel of all time, it's considered one of the finest examples of the genre in literature, and Frank Herbert wrote six sequels to it - all of which were bestsellers in their own right. Not only that, Herbert's son, Brian Herbert, and noted sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson helped to write two more sequels which concluded the original series and wrote a ton of prequels as well.
And as you'd expect with the bestselling science-fiction novel of all time, it's been hugely influential. There are even regions of Saturn's moon, Titan, named after 'Dune'. Not only that, you've got a very strong cast lined up for it and one of the most in-demand directors working on it.
The other part of this, and it's something we'll get into in more detail later, is that it's never been done well before, and everything about this adaptation so far makes it seem like this could actually work.
WHO'S BEEN CAST SO FAR?
Timotheé Chalamet has been cast as Paul Atreides, which is one of the central characters in the story and the series as a whole. Oscar Isaac is set to play his father, Duke Leto Atreides. Javier Bardem is rumoured to be playing Skilgar, a native of Arrakis. Rebecca Ferguson plays Lady Jessica, Paul's mother and Duke Leto Atreides' concubine as well a member of the Bene Gesserit - which is this secretive all-female organisation of, well, space witches. Sort of.
Charlotte Rampling has been cast as Reverend Mother Mohiam, a high-ranking member of the Bene Gesserit. Stellan Skarsgard has been cast as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the main villain of 'Dune', and Dave Bautista has been cast to play Count Glossu Rabban. Zendaya is also rumoured to have been cast as Chani, who becomes Paul Atreides' love interest.
OK, SO IF IT'S THIS POPULAR, HOW COME THERE HASN'T BEEN AN ADAPTATION OF IT BEFORE?
Well, as it turns out, there has. In fact, since the novels were first released, there have been a few attempts to adapt it. Avant-garde filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to adapt it in the '70s, and subsequently failed to get it off the ground. There's a great documentary, 'Jodorowsky's Dune', that tells the whole story of how it came together and fell apart.
After Jodorowsky's adaptation collapsed, David Lynch - yes, 'Twin Peaks' guy David Lynch - made an adaptation of it which was a critical and commercial failure. In fact, Lynch has since disowned the movie and had his name taken off subsequent versions of it. It's... definitely got problems, for sure, but it has some interesting moments. Plus, where else would you see Sting in a metal speedo?
Anyway, a couple of TV adaptations followed, including one which starred a very young James McAvoy, Susan Sarandon and Ian McNeice, none of which were particularly good or helped to make 'Dune' break over into the mainstream.
There's also been plenty of videogames, but again, they all have a cult following and very little in the way of mainstream accessibility.
SO, WILL IT BE ANY GOOD?
Well, that's the big question, isn't it? For sure, Denis Villeneuve and a script by Eric Roth is the best possible chance 'Dune' is ever going to get. Not only that, the casting so far has been pretty spot-on and it's clear the movie is attracting the right kind of talent. Couple all those together and you've got a real chance at making something special.
The other part of this, however, is that you've got a franchise that is - quite frankly - incredible deep with mythology and seems pretty damn difficult to adapt into a movie. Granted, David Lynch claimed his version was hacked to pieces by producers, and the TV series played more like soap operas than anything else, so it's hard to know if it's just a case of poor execution rather than the material itself being unadaptable. Not only that, a lot of what 'Dune' inspired is now more popular.
This was something that Denis Villeneuve pointed out in an interview last year. In an interview with FANDOM, Villeneueve said that "(most) of the main ideas of 'Star Wars' are coming from 'Dune' so it’s going to be a challenge to (tackle) this... the ambition is to do the 'Star Wars' movie I never saw. In a way, it's 'Star Wars' for adults. We’ll see."
That's a good analogy, as 'Dune' has lots of very adult material in it, not to mention it being ridiculously dense on top of it. Does that mean it'll have an R rating? Most likely, and it'll certainly need one. Then again, if the order is made to keep it at a PG-13, it's probably going to suffer.
WHEN IT'S OUT?
Good question. The initial thinking is that it'll be 2020, but given the amount of time spent on pre-production so far, our guess is it'll probably end up being 2021.